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Revolutionary changes to the best sports game on the planet. FIFA 12 brings to the pitch the game-changing new Player Impact Engine, a physics engine that delivers real-world physicality in every interaction. Gameplay innovations inspired by real-world football make FIFA 12 deeper and more engaging.

Formats: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, PC
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Age rating: PEGI 3
Released: 30 September 2011
After playing FIFA 12 for an extended period of time, it begins to feel like a culmination of EA's recent refinement of its football series. Since 2008, FIFA 12  has improved in increments-- tweaking, polishing, never looking back but maybe playing a little safe.
FIFA 12 is a more forceful step forward, with confidence breeding commitment to change. The clunky old UI has been torn up and streamlined into something altogether slicker, a handful of new modes have been added, while the action has been made more physical and tactical at both ends of the pitch.
The transition isn't completely painless, however. Even for FIFA veterans, bedding yourself into 12's nuances is a tricky business. The most radical overhaul is in defence, with the focus lying heavily on positioning and containment. Winning the ball is no longer a case of whipping your centre half out of position, holding A and watching him nick the ball from an attacker's feet. Standing tackles require a precise button press which, if mistimed, can leave your defender stumbling on the 18 yard line while a gaping hole opens in your back line. Now it's absolutely crucial that you keep your shape, keep your patience and make sure any attackers are correctly marshalled. Opponents can be pushed or pulled in order to slow them up, and you can hold down the right bumper to call a teammate out to jockey the ball-carrier. This being preferable to yanking your controlled player out of position and leaving exploitable gaps.
Those are the mechanics, but the ruminations go beyond control tweaks. The opposing AI is vastly improved, with players ruthlessly exposing gaps, moving into smarter positions and making far more intelligent choices in the final third. The physics system has been overhauled too, players clashing and wrestling for the ball with more bite and realism.
Realism. That's the byword. The changes in defence are the most apparent, but the effects of the various tweaks to FIFA spread across the entire pitch. With defences so well drilled, attacking takes on a different dynamic. Time will tell if obvious exploits reveal themselves, but in my experience goals were more varied than they've ever been, demanding differing approaches. And with opponent AI far more likely to stick one in your net, there's far more cut and thrust to FIFA 12's singleplayer matches.
In chasing the golden carrot of authenticity, however, you could argue FIFA has sacrificed accessibility. The fact you can switch to the old form of defending is perhaps a concession to this, but across the board FIFA 12 is far more complex and difficult than its predecessors. How you react to this will probably define your experience with the new game. If you're willing to put the effort into mastering the new system, the satisfaction is greater than its ever been. Because make no mistake, at its best FIFA 12 is magnificent.
This is particularly prevalent in human competition, where the unpredictability leads to fabulous back and forths. However, singleplayer has its fair share of improvements. As well as the obvious boost to AI, team and division choices throw up differing experiences. Playing as my beloved Watford, the clumping, often clumsy physicality of The Championship was obvious --aside from the odd drubbing at the hand of a classier West Ham-- while jumping up a league to control Chelsea or Manchester City offered a deliciously fluid game of football. Each team feels more individual, with FIFA 12 conveying more character.
This filters into the career mode. While the shell of the main singleplayer mode remains largely --and perhaps disappointingly-- familiar, there have been notable improvements. Players will now ask to be rested, or demand to see more first team action, and your response will affect their morale. Unhappy players will demand a transfer, which can lead to sly gamesmanship from rival clubs, bidding low in order to further unsettle your squad. It's not quite Football Manager, of course, but there's more nuance to the transfer system and man management. Transfer deadline day is now handled in an hour by hour countdown, and can be surprisingly exciting if you're desperately trying to bolster your team as the clock ticks down. Youth players also grow at a faster rate, meaning you don't have to play youngsters in every match to see improvement. Tying into this player development is a scouting network, where you can hire scouts to hunt out hot prospects. Career mode is far more involved this year, even if there is still room for improvement. The hub in career mode has been largely untouched and remains a clunky old thing, while it's still disappointing that playing as a manager or as a 'Be A Pro' player offers such similar experiences.
Still, FIFA 12 isn't left wanting when it comes to game modes. New this year is the EA Sports Football Club, which is essentially a type of social network, taking cues from Need for Speed's brilliant autolog. When first booting up FIFA 12, you're asked to select the real-life club you want to support. Then everything you do in FIFA 12 --regardless of team choice or game mode-- will earn points for your club. These points are then totted up into an average from each supporter, and your selected team will move up and down the EAFC leagues. It's a lovely addition, with the EAFC hub showing you how you're performing against your friends. EA will also provide regular challenges from real life that can earn you extra points on completion. For example, the early access challenge was guiding Chelsea to a win from 3-1 down against Manchester United, changing the fortunes of their recent Premier League clash.
Usually paid-for DLC, the fantasy football-esque Ultimate Team now comes on the disc. While online, there's the new head-to-head leagues, where you play 10 games in a 'season' and are promoted or relegated according to your performance.
The startling wealth of content FIFA 12 provides is geared towards total investment from its players. And it works. It's a terrific example of this new breed of "always connected" video game, constantly pulling you into just one more go, demanding commitment but generous in its rewards. Which is true of the on-pitch action too. There may be teething problems in adjusting to its nuances, and there's certainly room for refinement, but FIFA 12 is unquestionably a change for the better. There's still potential for an even more improved game of football then, but this is a huge stride to fulfilling it.

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